Writing About Haven Ministries

You may only write about Haven Ministries if you stay over night. Visits to all of our field sites in Sociology 215 are meant to do three things:

(1) Encourage you to think about readings and class topics and to use those materials in your discussion of the field experience;
(2) Raise issues for you about participation in community life and political activity and to discuss how engagement and social responsibility, or disengagement and social irresponsibility happen;
(3) Give you field experiences to prepare you for other courses that will have more intensive field experiences, like Anthropology/Sociology 201.

Your paper is not meant to be long. Three or four pages is enough. You also should not try to write about all of the themes given below. Pick your focus, state it, and give lots of description and detail to develop your points.

One of the most important things about the time you spend observing is that you should not be passive. Be involved in activities and, most importantly, talk to people. Try especially to meet people other than the hosts who bring us into the settings. In addition to the main participants in the program (the kids in a school), seek out and talk to some of the people who are more in the background---office people, family members, custodial staff. Look at the questions given for each assignment and ask people in the setting what they think about the issues that are listed.

Asking you to visit Haven Ministries has three objectives.

1. The first is to encourage you to think about what homeless shelters are for.

Many of us hold stereotypes about homeless shelters, who lives in them, and whether they are needed. It is important to recognize that to some extent these feelings have more to do with how our day-to-day lives have become disconnected from our communities and our neighbors than they do with the realities of homeless shelter living. Think about who is actually in these shelters, what problems the facilities address, and when this kind of living arrangement is really necessary. One side of the homeless shelter scene is that some people in the community mentally or emotionally handicapped and we have no good way of caring for them except in this kind of facility. Another aspect has to do with the realities of living in poverty, how that living standard puts families at risk, and the minimal options that are available to families when disaster occurs in their personal lives. Maybe our difficulty has to do with our unwillingness to deal with poverty in our communities rather than with irreponsibility or laziness among poor people.

2. A second objective is for you to think about the individuals who are poor and who live in a shelter like this so you can understand where poverty comes from and what people can do to improve their situations.

Discussions of welfare tend to emphasize poor people as being part of a long term pattern of being out of work and dependent on public assistance. You will find some people at Haven who indeed have had lives of long-term dependence but most of the people there are in a short-term situation of need and otherwise in their lives they have been self-supporting.
How have the people you met achieved self-sufficiency and what do their stories tell you about the lifestyle people have when they have low wage work. To what extent do you think things like living wage reforms would improve living conditions for people like those you meet at Haven?

3. The third objective is for you to think about homeless shelters as places for living and how you personally relate to the kind of people who are there.

Many students find it difficult to be around poor people and especially the retarded and emotionally compromised people we may find in a shelter. A valuable thing to do when you visit is to be involved in mealtimes and cleanups so you have a good chance to talk to people. Pay attention to the sources of your own discomfort being with the residents. Think about what it is like to live in a place like this. We focus on negative aspects like the group living arrangements or the strict rules people must obey. Pay attention to the variety of people who live and work in a home. Pay attention also to the character and quality of relationships residents have with each other and with staff. Be mindful that those relationships often are not placid, without conflict, or minus political aspects. This is a rich and intimate setting that one can penetrate if you take the time to talk to people and see them as whole and valuable human beings.